There are a lot of books out there written on how to cope with a cancer diagnosis. I’m pretty sure if I were to ask my mom how she copes, she’d say chocolate, Diet Coke, and lots of laughter. I’m thinking her doctors may only recommend that last one, though. My mom, Jeanne, was diagnosed with colon cancer in early 2007. After chemo treatments she was “cured” and life returned to “normal” for a while. In November of 2011 she was re-diagnosed and my family began this journey all over again.
We’ve learned a lot along the way, mostly things that people hope they never have to learn, but through this process we’ve accepted that sometimes it’s okay to need people. It’s okay to be independent. Perhaps most importantly, it’s okay to take a stand and want to make a difference.
My family has always been pretty private about my mom’s cancer diagnosis. Our approach has always involved doing our best to live life as normal as possible. We don’t hide the fact that she’s going through cancer treatment, yet we refuse to let it drastically change our lives. My mom told me once that she only allows herself to fully feel the emotional aspects for as long as she showers in the morning. There’s something pretty significant about that, I think.
After I completed my communications internship with the Colon Cancer Coalition the summer between my junior and senior year in college, I knew I wanted to still be involved in colon cancer advocacy. My family has never been the type to align ourselves with a cause, but knowing there were organizations and people out there that did meant a lot. After getting involved via my internship, I knew I wanted to do something to continue the fight against colon cancer.
The colonoscopy that my mom received back in 2007 saved her life. She was smart and went to the doctor when something didn’t seem right, but that’s not the case for a lot of people. She wasn’t quite at the recommended screening age of 50 when she was diagnosed and didn’t have any known relatives that had been diagnosed. I knew there had to be many people out there that would ignore the symptoms, and I couldn’t get over the fact of how important screening is for prevention.
I knew I didn’t want to start my own non-profit because there was no need with great organizations like the Colon Cancer Coalition already in place. Instead, I took to social media and started a small campaign called Tell Your Folks. The sole purpose of Tell Your Folks is to encourage young people to talk to their parents about getting screened for colon cancer. I quickly learned that the internet is a great way to raise awareness without needing funding or donations. Through live event tweeting and connecting with people impacted by colon cancer, I believe a difference is being made. I’ve even gotten tweets from celebrities like country music singer Trace Adkins, YouTube personality Grace Helbig, and The Bachelor contestant Michelle Money.
While interning with the Colon Cancer Coalition, I learned that a single conversation can save a life. It’s not a conversation I ever thought of having with my parents, but I hope one day it will be something all teenagers are willing to talk about with their parents.
So as my mom continues her chemotherapy every other week (she’s on treatment #34!), we’re happy to still be coping with her diagnosis with our faces blue from laughter (and a little bit of chocolate and Diet Coke sneaking in along the way).